Thursday, March 28, 2019

Sing, Peepers, Sing!

Moving right along into spring, we're already starting to see some new foliage on the trees;
there are a few random bulbs and wildflowers starting to pop up in the yard. And most of us have started some vegetable seedlings indoors in preparation for a summer garden.

But sometimes, long before any of the visual landscape changes, you can actually hear the sounds of spring — beginning with the Peepers calling into the late evening and early dawn.

Not to be confused with Peeps, those wonderfully delicious marshmallow treats that show up in Easter baskets, Peepers are chorus frogs, the ones we see (and hear) as they announce the entrance of one of my favorite seasons. Their melodic chirping is so common and expected that it’s the kind of background noise you can miss if you don’t take a minute or two to listen closely as you drift off to sleep or when you wake each morning.
Fun Facts about Peepers:
Peepers “sing” as a part of their mating ritual. 

It’s the guys crooning to the girls, trying to draw them nearer (the universal language of love, even for amphibians).

Spring Peepers are tough and can survive freezing and thawing (unlike some of our early flowers that fall victim to late frost).

They’re cute! And their vocal ability is amazing when they “puff” out their vocal sac. Just listen:

If you’re a light sleeper, perhaps you’re not as enamored with these little guys as I have been. As for me, I can’t wait to get back to the seasonal tunes that have a strange calming effect that helps me drift off into a peaceful slumber.

Sing, Peepers, sing! And welcome, spring!!

(first written Spring 2017)

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Clean-up in Aisle 6 and Sibling Rivalry

Today I find myself thinking about sibling rivalry and the very complex dynamics of families. There is a delicate balance between parent and child. I’ve come to realize that there is an even more fragile state among the “one to many” nature of those of us blessed with two or more children.
My Three Sons!

When I was a kid, I grew up in a house with three boys and myself as the only girl. From a child’s perspective, my observations of sibling rivalry were centered more around how we were each treated. As parents, we say that we love them all the same and equally. But that’s simply not possible. I don’t mean that we have favorites or mistreat one over the others. Every single person in this world is unique. I appreciate all the gifts they each offer. And at the end of the day, there are distinctive and different personalities that come into play as far as getting things done and maintaining harmony. And being “favored” is not always what it’s cracked up to be. Especially when “favored” translates to the kids most likely to be obedient and resist the less.  I think this is pervasive in our society and we may all be a little guilty of favoring people over and over again, without recognizing the implications of what we do and how we reward the chosen few.

I have come to realize very recently that it is those unique differences that imprint on our family dynamics early on. And something as subtle as asking one child to perform a task instead of another becomes a bad habit that is fostered and continues throughout their lifetime.

Just like careers, jobs and roles are informally assigned and accepted based upon aptitude. Unfortunately, those aptitudes present with a double edged sword and just because someone is a nurturer or caretaker by nature does not mean that they should be handed the mop and expected to “clean up in aisle 6” every time life gets messy.

Sometimes, handing the mop to the one less likely to get up all the mess is exactly what is needed, so that we all develop a broader skillset and tools for life.

Years ago, before my dad passed, I was part of the sibling rivalry craziness. I’m still an outlier in the dynamics with my mom. And at the time, I couldn’t see from the perspective of my parents. I could only see what felt wrong to me.

I can think of countless times where my dad or mom asked one of us to do something. And as a member of the secret society of siblings, we had a code to live by. If mom or dad told us not to tell anyone, we of course told everyone in the family. If we talked about someone, it was always the one that was absent from the conversation. And we’d only band together as a force for good when it was to defend our parents against the designated black sheep of the family (which, by the way, was a rotating role with a very long and well defined succession plan).  The only requirement? You must continue to accept the role you’re given and keep your place in line.

Having been the “favored” kid as a caretaker and chief slop mopper, my perspective has been more focused on what it felt like as a kid. But as time goes by, as my own kids get older, I have a better appreciation for the delicate balance and tightrope my parents had to walk. I have three sons, one of which is grown. But it was the dichotomy of being one of many that has played out in reverse for me with them.

I’ve made a living from responding well in a crisis. And flourished in environments that would cause others to wilt and die. But it came at a cost. And instead of redefining my own balance and strengths and weaknesses, I kept building and reinforcing the path of least resistance. Because the other edge of the sword…of being favored or needed…well, it became a habit. It has proven difficult to shake off the role I was literally born to play.

So if I can see all of this so clearly, why then do I continue to perpetuate this with a new generation? Why saddle my own kids with similar dysfunction and responsibility that contains a smidge of underlying guilt? On a good day, I’d tell you I don’t. That I push back against those natural tenets and encourage them to seek what pleases them (and not be a people pleaser).  And that’s true. But on days when I’m just being completely human and selfish, I am guilty of the same sins my mother and father committed against me. I will pick the one who is the most likely to respond with the least resistance.

I had surgery a few weeks ago. It’s all good and I’m on the mend, but having to rely upon anyone for help has always been a struggle for me. I’ve grown a lot and can now accept help when it is offered and feel gratitude for kindnesses extended. But at 14 and 16, my younger boys are busy growing up and being teenagers. Having to ask for help from either of them has been painful. I’ve pulled out every tool in my toolbox of dysfunctions to cajole, guilt or otherwise persuade them to do simple things that made me feel better about being incapacitated. I’m a fairly simple person and it doesn’t take much. So the tasks I was looking for help with were things like planting strawberries, moving a few things around the house, and getting the garbage out to the curb on Thursday night.

What I learned was that in my natural tendency to rely upon my middle son, the sibling rivalry I experienced with my own brothers reared its ugly head. And for the first time, I had a better understanding of how my dad must have felt and now how my mom feels when we pit ourselves against each other.  Sure, I still remember my childhood and some of the challenges I faced. But in doing so, I have to accept accountability for my own shortcomings.

The answer is much simpler when you flip the lens. For every time my mom or dad defended me or my brothers against each other for what they did or didn’t do…for more or less of what was their fair share, the biggest hurdle and easiest to overcome…for all of us…is simply this:

We are all fallible and imperfectly human. It is a normal and natural affliction. When we compare one another to each other or insist that those we love treat us better or differently, we are putting conditions upon that love.

The truth is if we simply accepted each relationship and connection as unique…if we chose to do and say and act based solely upon our genuine desire to help or share, we could see past those imperfections and reach a higher level of understanding. And I’m not saying that this gives carte blanche to others to mistreat or hurt us. But I find the more time I spend considering my own thoughts and actions (and by default the less I think about others’), life feels a lot simpler to me. And if anyone believes they can win an argument with anyone against their own child (even if you happen to be their child as well), you’ve failed before you enter your opening statement.  

The truth is that in families as well as the broader landscape of life, there will always be competing “siblings” of sorts. And to conditionally accept a person or situation is not at our highest level of awareness. There is an unconditional level that is still within the human condition and it’s possible to achieve. But like grabbing the bucket and mop, it takes practice. It won’t always feel good and it won’t always work out. But if our natural tendency was to rely on one another for the greater good and higher order, I’m betting that clean up in aisle 6 would become more of a group effort instead of people running away with their carts at the sound of breaking glass.

Unconditional doesn’t mean you can’t have expectations. It does mean that if you choose to include people in your life, you have to be willing to accept what they are willing to give. You sit with your own feelings, and CHOOSE every step with deliberation. When you can reach the level where your actions line up with what is in your heart to do …then you are golden. You will either continue to follow your true north with this person or you will naturally follow the flow of life in another direction. Either way, ego is out and love wins.

Mom and Dad…I’m sorry I was so hard on you both. The second half is on me. You did your best and so will I.